The little boy who would grow up to become one of Hawaii’s most beloved musicians

VIDEO: A childhood in Kaimuki helped form IZ's later life

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - When Sam Kong thinks about Israel Kamakawiwoole, he doesn’t remember the beloved musician or world-renowned artist. He remembers his childhood friend.

“He used to call me King Kong," Kong said.

Kamakawiwoole and Kong grew up together in Kaimuki. They were neighbors.

And fellow troublemakers.

Sam Kong said he vividly remembers his childhood friend, IZ. (Image: Hawaii News Now)
Sam Kong said he vividly remembers his childhood friend, IZ. (Image: Hawaii News Now)

“He lived on a lane so we used to always play there. So his neighbors used to always scold us,” he said. “Because Petrie Park is so close, they always used to yell and tell us play at the park, but it was more fun playing on his lane.”

It’s been 25 years since IZ released his “Facing Future” album, the most successful Hawaii release of all time.

IZ died in 1997, at just 38 years old. But his music and legacy live on.

Kong said he and IZ attended Waialae Elementary and Kaimuki Middle School together — hanging out before, after and during class. Kong said he remembers talking story with IZ, playing chase master and running after the “manapua man." But above all, they loved walking to the store, gathering up 17 cents and buying kites.

A young IZ smiles with classmates. The beloved musician grew up in Kaimuki. (Image: Archive)
A young IZ smiles with classmates. The beloved musician grew up in Kaimuki. (Image: Archive)

“We’d fly it and I’d just wait to listen to his yell. He’d go ‘buckaloose’ and then I’d always reply ‘yahoo’ and then we’d watch it and he’d ‘buckaloose’ the kite and we’d just stand there and we just watch it fly off," Kong said.

"You know it was simple back them.”

IZ would later move away from the neighborhood, out to the west side of Oahu, and Sam ended up leaving the islands to join the military.

But no matter the distance or time away from him, “King Kong” says he will always have aloha for his childhood friend.

“But of all the friends I have, I don’t know of any families or close friends that I know of that has seen our grandchildren grow up, but I know yours. And I have seen your grandchildren being born, I see them growing up and for some reason God blessed me," Kong said.

“I’ll always watch over them, and I’ll continue to care for them and somehow may I also be able to, with God’s blessing, watch them and care for them.”

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